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Studio: The Criterion Collection
Year: 1964
Cast: Monica Vitti, Richard Harris, Carlo Chionetti
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Release Date: September 10, 2010, 6:32 am
Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:57m:19s

ìI intended to go down, but now itís up instead.î - Corrado Zeller (Richard Harris)

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This classic film from legendary filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni gets the royal Criterion Collection treatment it deserves, and is wonderfully restored on this Blu-ray disc.

Movie Grade: B+

DVD Grade: A

The great Michelangelo Antonioni is one of cinemaís best filmmakers, enjoying an illustrious career spanning from his first feature, People of the Po Valley, back in 1947, to his final effort directing the segment, The Dangerous Thread of Things, in 2004ís erotic anthology Eros. Somewhere in-between (specifically, in 1964), he made Red Desert, his first color film that also served as a showcase for the beautiful, extremely talented Monica Vitti, whom Antonioni was in a relationship with at the time. Red Desertís place amongst the rest of his oeuvre is often debated, but now The Criterion Collection allows that debate to rage on in our living rooms, as theyíve issued a phenomenal Blu-ray package for the film, presenting it in glorious fashion.

Giuliana (Vitti) is a very disturbed and very married woman. While the specifics behind her emotional distress arenít made clear, initially, it is clear that she doesnít get enough attention from her husband, Ugo (Carlo Chionetti). This lack of attention mostly stems from Ugoís numerous business responsibilities, but thereís non-work-related neglect involved as well. Enter Corrado Zeller (Richard Harris), a tall, handsome man who seems to fall in love with Giuliana the minute he sets eyes on her. Thereís clearly chemistry and sexual tension when those two are together, and when Corrado volunteers to essentially watch over Giuliana while Ugo is away, things change even more.

Red Desert is easily one of the most divisive works of Michelangelo Antonioniís career, even amongst his most avid fans. Although many of his films arenít exactly liner exercises in tight, plot-centric storytelling, this one doesnít concentrate on plot much at all. On the surface, it merely focuses on the character of Giuliana, and her new relationship with Corrado. However, Antonioni has much more to tell us via a bevy of undertones that eerily reflect the current state of the world. The most glaring undertone is evident in the setting itself, as the dreary, smoke-stack- filled factories and drab, foggy water infers that the director is exploring the industrial boom and its impact, both financially and even medically, on our planet and society as a whole.

Monica Vitti is a huge reason to see Red Desert, as she not only burns up the screen with her strong beauty and charged sexuality, but her performance is the key to Antonioniís film working. In what could have been a boring, one-note performance, Vitti elevates the film by wearing her characterís emotional distress on her sleeve, showing a wide range of emotions within scenes, regardless of their length. She handles the filmís central relationship (between Giuliana and Corrado) splendidly, but thereís one central sequence that embodies the brilliance of her performance. This involves her waking up to her son being paralyzed from the neck down for some, unexplained reason. While her initial reaction is unsurprising, especially from her, itís the way this sequence ends that is truly remarkable.

The aforementioned ambiguity involving the reasons behind Giulianaís emotional problems is frustrating at first, but a key sequence near the end of the film finally clears that all up. It also gives Vitti another chance to really shine, since these scenes not only serve as a big reveal to the audience, but they also deal with resolving the Giuliana/Corrado relationship. Despite Vittiís amazing performance, and solid work from Richard Harris (poorly dubbed-in Italian and all), I still canít quite put Red Desert among my favorite Antonioni films. Still, Criterion certainly treats it as such on their end, as this excellent, single-disc package features audio and video presentations that put the filmís previous home video transfers to shame. Along with their standard comprehensive booklet, Criterion has also included a great extras collection that includes interviews with Antonioni and Vitti, a collection of dailies, and a pair of short films. Criterion simply keeps the Blu-ray excellence coming!

Chuck Aliaga September 10, 2010, 6:32 am